Saturday, May 08, 2010

How does that work?

I took a 915 bus out towards the airport last week.

Leaving Dongzhimen bus station, there was a bus at least once every 5 minutes. Coming back from Shunyi a few hours later, there seemed to be a bus only once every 15-20 minutes.

Does not compute.

Now, I suppose there might be an argument - if the service is a major commuter route, or leads to a major tourist attraction like the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall - for having more outgoing buses in the morning, and building up a reserve fleet to bring more people back into the city later in the day.

However, I don't think anyone commutes out of Beijing. And I'm not sure how close to Mutianyu the 915 goes, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't go all the way. Nor can I see why the bus company would be making such a large provision for tourist traffic on an ordinary working day.

Frankly, even if there were such a need for transferring the distribution of the buses over the course of the day, I am deeply sceptical as to whether bus company managers here are sufficiently astute to plan for that.

So, why are there apparently at least three times as many outbound buses as inbound ones on that 915 route? It remains a mystery. I would appreciate any persuasive suggestions of an explanation.


JES said...

Hmm... Two theories:

(1) The inbound route is more circuitous and complex, perhaps because it's been established longer. So instead of going straight from A to S, it wanders all around to B, C, D, and so on, in a way which disguises that it is indeed a "route" from A to S. According to this theory, the outbound route would have been established more rapidly, in the interest of efficiency and especially, maybe, of getting them to the vicinity of the airport on time.

(Hmm again. If the whole thing is at all airport-related, it seems to say to air travelers: "Welcome to our city! Please observe the many points of interest with which you may be unfamiliar and which you may never think to visit otherwise!" (inbound) and "We know how eager you probably are to leave Beijing; please take the express exit!" (outbound).)

(2) I have no idea how the traffic flows around Beijing at various times of day -- all right, at any single time of day -- but some cities have multiple "rush hours," beyond the usual morning and evening times. Sometimes the "rush hours" are even irregularly scattered over the entire yearly calendar. Here, we've got two universities in town, each with their own athletic calendars, and as the state capital we play host to large numbers of legislators and their staffs for 2-3 months a year. All kinds of stuff happens during the year which require the transit folks to get very creative in scheduling routes around substantial roadblocks, and/or to move traffic in particular directions at odd off-hours. The other day the city sponsored a Cinco de Mayo festival which closed off a three-block area right in the heart of the business district and caught nearly everyone by surprise; this followed by two days a Law Enforcement Memorial Day, featuring a parade of police, sheriffs, and highway-patrol officers whose route blocked east-west traffic in both directions for several morning hours unless you were willing to shuffle waaaay to the north or south of downtown just to get a further 2-3 blocks in the desired direction.

The whole puzzle actually forced me into considering a Google Maps view of Beijing traffic along the Google Maps-suggested route. (The purple line is the suggested route; all the other colors indicate traffic conditions along the way but also on surrounding streets for which any traffic info is available.) Which was very much guesswork on my part, since all I knew was that point A was called Dongzhimen and involved a bus station, and point B was called Shunyi and was vaguely near an airport. And even when I saw the results I had no idea what I was looking at, because all the labels were in Chinese characters (and Google's "translate this page" feature apparently doesn't touch map labels).

The inscrutable Orient.

Froog said...

No matter how circuitous the route, the spacing of the buses at any given point ought to remain more or less constant - unless they're being taken out of service at some point.

Google Maps are particularly frustrating in China/Beijing, because those odd inverted teardrop markers they use are very imprecise. City blocks here can be hundreds of yards long; and, often, venues do not front directly on to a main street, but are hidden away within a housing complex. (Also, addresses are often taken from some major road or other notable feature nearby, not from the street the place is actually on - so addresses aren't much help either.) You have little help of finding something unless your map shows you which street you access it from; Google Maps rarely show you any more than that a place is somewhere in this block.

Froog said...

I can't recall if I've mentioned this on Froogville before, but my favourite letter of complaint was written in the late 1800s by W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan), reprinted in one of John Julius Norwich's Christmas Cracker literary anthologies:


Despite recurring at regular and well-foreseen intervals, Saturday mornings always seem to take this railway by surprise.

Froog said...

Another curious problem one encounters with online map resources in China - so I am assured by friends with fancier phones than mine - is all locations in Beijing (and perhaps in the whole of China?) are recorded as being several metres displaced from their true GPS coordinates.

Some say that this is just a continuation of an ancient Chinese tradition of incompetence in map-making. Others speculate that it is a cunning ploy to try to frustrate any potential attack by hi-tech guided weapons like cruise missiles.

Cock-up vs. Conspiracy again. In China, I find the Cock-up explanation is more usually the right one.